Behind Enemy Lines: South Carolina beat writer Ryan Wood, The Post and Courier

@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – My last byline from Clemson of the regular season, and I’m not even responsible for the copy.

A happy and hearty Thanksgiving goes out to you and yours on this frigid Thursday morning. I’ll be spending my seventh different Turkey Day at my seventh different table in the last seven years (in six separate states.) (Say that five times fast.)

Today, I’m lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving with my pal and your co-Post and Courier college beat writer down in our state’s capital. But first, before we find our way into a food coma induced by his lovely wife and her fantastic cooking, Ryan Wood’s got a few things to say about the South Carolina Gamecocks.

If you haven’t been following Ryan on Twitter, by the way … where ya been?

Aaron Brenner, The Post and Courier: A few South Carolina players sat out the Coastal Carolina game; does it sound like Clowney, Davis, Quarles and others are back to full strength entering this game?

Ryan Wood, The Post and Courier: This late into the season, nobody is 100 percent healthy. Clowney has dealt with right foot issues for much of his career, let alone season. Davis had a bruised shoulder and bruised ribs. Quarles was held out last week with headaches. He said he has a bad habit of hitting people with his head. Which, of course, is a new no-no in football.

Still, last week’s rest was a huge help. Of South Carolina’s four best players – Clowney, Qurles, Davis and quarterback Connor Shaw – Shaw was the only one who played against Coastal Carolina. Even he was yanked after three possessions, given the chance to rest his sprained right knee. If they’re not full strength, they’ll be as close as they’ve been for quite some time.

Brenner: Dabo Swinney asserts: Jadeveon Clowney affects the game at all times, even though he only has 2 sacks (but 8.5 TFLs.) You’ve watched him all year, do you agree?

Wood: As long as offenses run an abnormal amount of plays away from Clowney, he’ll have a huge effect. It doesn’t compensate for his lack of production this season. Nobody – including the most hardened Clemson fan – thought Clowney would have just two sacks entering the season’s 12th game. Impact players are expected to make impact plays, and Clowney hasn’t made many. But his effect on opposing offenses is unquestioned.

Opponents have treated Clowney much the way Dracula treats the sun. I wouldn’t expect Clemson to be any different. They know what the monster is capable of, if he gets a chance.

Brenner: Connor Shaw’s obviously dealt with some different injuries. Do you expect his mobility to be somewhere close to normal Saturday night, and how critical is that to USC’s offense?

Wood: A stat for you: South Carolina is 14-for-54 on third down in its past four games against FBS opponents. It hasn’t been over 50 percent on third down in any FBS game since Oct. 12 at Arkansas. The turning point was Connor Shaw spraining his right knee, which he did four FBS games ago at Tennessee.

Shaw looked much more mobile against Coastal Carolina than he did the previous week against Florida. Of course, Florida’s defense has some athletes Coastal Carolina can only dream about. Still, Shaw said his knee felt better than it had in a month. If that continues Saturday, it’s impossible to overstate how important that is for USC.

Brenner: Who are the three most important Gamecocks who have to play well Saturday night, and why?

Wood: South Carolina needs Connor Shaw’s dual-threat ability, Mike Davis’ dominance and Jadeveon Clowney’s presence. Yeah, I know, not exactly a surprising list. Lacks some spice. You could’ve answered this one for yourself. But if Shaw, Davis and Clowney have big nights, South Carolina will win. And it will probably win easily. If they struggle, if they don’t make big plays, Clemson absolutely wins.

Brenner: The last thing Steve Spurrier says in the pregame locker room is:

Wood, doing his finest Spurrier impression: “All right guys, I know it’s hard, but whatever you do, don’t think about the Missouri-Texas A&M score. Don’t even look at it on the Jumbotron, or the big screen, whatever it is. Hear no evil, see no evil … do no evil. I don’t know. We’ve got a ballgame here to win. Yes, I know we’ve beaten Clemson a couple times, four in fact here lately, but why not beat them some more? Might as well. Shoot, we can’t play for an SEC championship until next week.”

I exaggerate a little bit, of course. This game is still extremely important to South Carolina, even if they’ve dominated it lately. I’m sure Spurrier will emphasize how important it is to continue the streak. Still, the ultimate goal for this team is competing for the SEC title. It’ll be hard to forget about the Missouri-Texas A&M game, but absolutely critical. There can’t be any distractions Saturday night. Clemson is too good.

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